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Saturday: Weakening Hurricane Irma expected to re-intensify as Tampa Bay braces for arrival

Tampa Bay is under a hurricane warning as Hurricane Irma weakened slightly after making landfall in Cuba early Saturday morning, but the storm is still targeting a Florida landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm.

Irma is taking aim at south Florida with 125 mph (257 kph) winds after battering Cuba and leaving more than 20 dead across the Caribbean, as another hurricane follows close behind.

DOWNLOAD: Get the tbo Weather App and see where storms are headed

Thousands of people in the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands, and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes.

Many residents and tourists were left reeling after the storm ravaged some of the world's most exclusive tropical playgrounds, known for their turquoise waters and lush green vegetation. Among them: St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

Irma threatened to push its way northward from one end of Florida to the other beginning Sunday morning. It is expected to strengthen as it passes over water and toward Florida.

CURRENT CONDITIONS

As of 11 p.m., more than 170,000 homes and businesses in Florida had lost power and the center of Irma was about 90 miles southeast of Key West.

Florida Power and Light said on its website that more than half of those outages were in the Miami-Dade area, where about 600,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.

As Irma's hurricane-force winds started to whip the Florida Keys, the storm stayed at a weakened 120 mph and took slow aim at Florida.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm's forward motion fell to 6 mph as the storm stuttered off the coast of Cuba.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 70 miles from the center, with tropical-storm-force winds up to 205 miles.

The storm is still forecast to strengthen as it moves away from Cuba and into open water toward Florida.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

A hurricane warning has been extended around Florida from Hernando County to the Flagler/Volusia County Line.

Forecasters say Irma will make landfall around the Florida Keys on Sunday morning then move along the west coast — including the Tampa Bay area, which will experience hurricane-force winds during the day Sunday.

The Tampa Bay region also is under a storm surge warning.

HURRICANE GUIDE: Emergency information, tracking map and storm resources

LOCAL FORECAST

Winds will continue to build today as Hurricane Irma continues to approach the Tampa Bay region.

There is a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday, with highs near 90 ahead of the hurricane, which is forecast to make a northerly turn later Saturday, forecasters said.

The region is expected to experience gusty winds starting Saturday morning, with winds around 20 mph and increasing throughout the day and producing tropical storm-force winds Saturday night, 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Grant Gilmore said.

Those winds could prompt the closure of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Saturday night, once sustained winds reach 40 mph, Gilmore said.

Winds will continue to increase into Sunday, with the worst conditions expected Sunday night into Monday morning, Gilmore said.

Irma could pack Category 3 strength after it makes its possible landfall near Fort Myers and moves through the Tampa Bay area on Monday morning, producing maximum sustained winds as high as 120 mph from Sunday around 8 p.m. through Monday around 8 a.m., Gilmore said.

The storm could produce quick spin-up tornadoes and up to three inches of rain starting Sunday night, with the potential of a 5-7 feet of storm surge across Tampa Bay — and perhaps up to 9 feet in some areas, Gilmore said.

LIVE BLOG: The latest on Hurricane Irma

HIGH TIDE AND STORM SURGE

Storm surge from Hurricane Irma is expected to hit the Tampa Bay area between Sunday night and early Monday morning, and some weather experts believe the impact could be intensified if they coincide with high tides Monday morning. Storm surge, or the water pushed by the hurricane to shore, can pose the greatest danger during a hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center's website, and has the potential to cause extreme flooding when it coincides with normal high tide.

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS ORDERED FOR HILLSBOROUGH ZONE A, PINELLAS ZONE B

Officials issued more mandatory evacuations as the forecast for Hurricane Irma turned more bleak for Tampa Bay. Hillsborough County issued a mandatory evacuation for Zone A, as well as for all residents in mobile homes, starting at 8 a.m. Pinellas County expanded its mandatory evacuations to Zone B, bringing the total of open shelters to 16. The latest order means all residents in evacuation levels A, B and mobile homes should take shelter by dusk Saturday. The order went into effect immediately.

PUBLIX STORES CLOSE EARLY

All Publix stores through the Tampa Bay area closed by 3 p.m. as Hurricane Irma continued to track toward the region. In a news release Saturday, officials cited "Irma's forecasted track change, the impending weather conditions worsening, and considering the safety of our customers and associates."

PUBLIC SCHOOLS CLOSED THROUGH TUESDAY

All public schools and school district offices in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties will be closed through Tuesday due to Hurricane Irma.

LANDFALL IN CUBA

The eye of Irma moved over the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba as a Category 5 hurricane. The center says Irma made landfall there late Friday with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (257 kph).

EVACUATION MAPS: Find evacuation maps for Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas

Irma has left more than 20 dead across the Caribbean as thousands of people there fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes.

Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the eastern part of Cuba reported no major casualties or damage by mid-afternoon Friday after Irma rolled north of the Caribbean's biggest islands.

Many residents and tourists were left reeling after the storm ravaged some of the world's most exclusive tropical playgrounds, known for their turquoise waters and lush green vegetation. Among them: St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

BERMUDA HIGH SYSTEM IS BRINGING STORM TOWARD TAMPA BAY

Blame the "Bermuda High" Tampa Bay residents troubled by a westerly shift in Irma's forecast track can point their fingers at the huge area of high pressure that usually hovers over Bermuda.

For days, forecasters have been calling for the storm to make a drastic northerly turn. But when? For Tampa Bay, the answer could mean the difference between tropical storm and hurricane force winds.

Earlier in the week, the track showed Irma making landfall near Miami and tracking along or just off the state's east coast. Now, models are coalescing around a forecast track that shows Irma turning later, making landfall closer to Naples, and the Bermuda high is why, said Stephen Shively, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

TAMPA ELECTRIC, DUKE ENERGY POISED TO RESTORE POWER OUTAGES

Tampa Bay might not sustain a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, but utilities agree: there will be power outages. In anticipation of the storm, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric are mobilizing workers and preparing their emergency responses to handle damages their coverage areas may sustain. Read more about how the power companies plan to handle outages here.

TAMPA INTERNATIONAL SHUTTING DOWN AND PUBLIX STORES CLOSING

If you haven't booked a flight out of Tampa International Airport yet to get away from Hurricane Irma, it's probably too late. The Tampa airport will cease all commercial airline operations on Saturday at 8 p.m. That means no flights will be taking off or landing at the airport.

WHY FLORIDA'S HIGHWAYS WONT BE ROUTED ONE WAY FOR EVACUEES

As thousands of Floridians take to roadways to escape Hurricane Irmawhile there's still precious hours left to do so, one question keeps surfacing:

Why aren't state officials making the state's largest arteries — the Turnpike, Interstate 75 and Interstate 95 — one-way roads north so people can evacuate faster?

State officials say doing so would limit their ability to pre-position supplies before the storm hits and, as of Friday morning, they don't have any plans to reverse the flow of southbound traffic, a process they call "contraflow."

"We still need southbound lanes to get needed gas and supplies down to shelters and families that need it the southern parts of the state," Gov. Rick Scott said at a morning briefing in West Palm Beach. "Contraflow also inhibits our ability to get emergency vehicles to people that need them."

OTHER SYSTEMS

In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia made landfall late Friday north of Tecolutla, Mexico and weakened to a tropical storm, with winds reaching 45 mph (72.4 kph).

In the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is a Category 4 hurricane, about 95 miles east-northeast of the Northern Leeward Islands, moving to the northwest at 14 mph with winds reaching 145 mph.

Saturday: Weakening Hurricane Irma expected to re-intensify as Tampa Bay braces for arrival 09/09/17 [Last modified: Saturday, September 9, 2017 11:31pm]
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